Remote, But Together: How People Leaders Foster Human Connection for WFH Teams

The comforts and conveniences of working from home aren’t without their challenges, but these companies are finding ways to bring community and connection to remote arrangements.

Written by Lucas Dean
Published on Apr. 27, 2023
Remote, But Together: How People Leaders Foster Human Connection for WFH Teams
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Digital life is full of double-edged swords. 

Social media has made it easier to keep tabs on friends and family, but studies have shown these platforms can simultaneously engender feelings of isolation and disconnection. 

Dating apps have proven that there are plenty of fish in the sea, but anyone who’s been on a few dates knows that online impressions don’t always match up with expectations. 

Perhaps the most discussed aspect of online life in the past few years has been remote work — for a good reason. According to WFH Research’s Survey of Working Arrangements and Attitudes, conducted in February 2023, 12 percent of full-time employees were fully remote, while 28 percent worked in hybrid arrangements. Additionally, respondents who worked in tech operated remotely more than in any other industry. 

Amid the sustained prevalence of remote work, many have found that the perks of working from home often come with meaningful sacrifices — authentic connections being chief among them. 

Fostering human connections in a work-from-home environment takes attention and empathy. “Consistently creating moments of engagement and community across a distributed team of over 2,000 people really is a full-time job,” explained SailPoint’s senior manager of culture and employee experience, Becky Harmonson.

Harmonson and Caroline Johns, internal communications manager at Saatva, shared how they create real connections away from the office. 

 

Becky Harmonson
Senior Manager, Culture and Employee Experience • SailPoint

SailPoint harnesses AI and machine learning to automate management and control of access for complex enterprises. Team members work in a hybrid environment with flexible arrangements. 

 

What’s the key to creating real, human connection in the remote workplace?

At SailPoint, we’ve worked hard to build communities across the organization for folks with similar hobbies and interests. In our SailPoint Slack community, we have everything from a cooking channel to an astronomy-lovers group. 

We make sure to emphasize all the different ways our new crew can get involved from the very beginning of their onboarding experience. We take the time to get to know our team and help them find the communities they’re most excited about. There’s a sense of, “We know how it feels to be a new employee in a remote environment; here’s where you can go to meet people like you.” At SailPoint, it’s important for us to take the time to prioritize our people.

 

What’s the most successful strategy or initiative you’ve employed to facilitate those connections?

The success of a strategy around building connection comes down to meeting people where they’re at. It’s about balancing consistency with iteration where necessary. For example, we’ve hosted regional holiday parties and happy hours and then added other elements like volunteering opportunities to drive even more meaningful connections. 

The success of a strategy around building connection comes down to meeting people where they’re at, and balancing consistency with iteration.”

 

We take ideas that might’ve started small and think through how we can involve more people and make a bigger impact across the organization. Recently, we hosted a series of weekly coffee chats throughout March in honor of Women’s History Month. They were such a hit with our crew that we’re building the series out to be an ongoing, monthly conversation throughout the year. Our ideas grow based on the feedback we get, and we are flexible and eager to adapt to create programs that best fit our team’s needs and interests. 

Another successful initiative we introduced is our Culture Champions. Made up of crew members across the organization, this group helps spread the word about upcoming events. Our Culture Champions have been vital in driving further engagement and connection throughout SailPoint.

 

What kind of response have you heard from your team? 

Prioritizing our crew and helping employees connect with one another across the business is a huge driver of engagement and performance. I’m a big believer that what you put in is what you get out, and we put a lot of effort into building a positive community for our crew. 

One of my favorite communities is our Kudos channel, where crew members can publicly shout each other out for their great work. It’s one of our most active groups, and I think that’s a real testament to how connected our colleagues feel to each other. How we show up for one another translates to how we show up for our customers and our communities. Every day I’m proud of the ways I see our crew showing up and working together to achieve great results.

 

 

Saatva’s analytics team poses for a photo outside of the office.
Saatva

 

Caroline Johns
Internal Communications Manager • Saatva

Saatva is a direct-to-consumer company that specializes in luxury, eco-friendly mattresses. The company’s workforce is entirely remote, aside from retail employees. 

 

What’s the key to creating real, human connection in the remote workplace?

Since 2020, Saatva has operated as a fully remote company — with the exception of our retail staff. Our employees have widely embraced the remote experience for the great work-life balance it provides. We have found that the key to creating authentic connections in this environment is to provide dedicated spaces for genuine, organic interactions. 

One way we have done this is through the creation of an employee-centric newsletter, which highlights colleagues from across the company and the impact they have on our organization and communities. Last year we also successfully launched four employee resource groups, which has allowed people to connect with colleagues they may not otherwise have crossed paths with. As a company, we have set a cadence for our teams to meet in person quarterly. Each of these initiatives gives employees opportunities to connect with each other in a variety of real, authentic ways.

 

What’s the most successful strategy or initiative you’ve employed to facilitate those connections?

Saatva has seen incredible success in implementing a remote-first culture. Through these experiences, we found that sparks fly when we get together in person. This is why we set a companywide goal for teams to meet in person on a quarterly basis. This allows us to optimize opportunities for collaboration and bonding, which we then carry with us into our day-to-day remote work.

We set a companywide goal for teams to meet in person quarterly. This allows us to optimize opportunities for collaboration and bonding, which we then carry with us into our day-to-day remote work.”
 

What kind of response have you heard from your team? 

Given that the majority of our work is conducted remotely, the teams have overwhelmingly accepted in-person meetings as productive, collaborative and fun. After experiencing the positive impact of these meetings, teams often look for more opportunities to meet in person. As a company, we champion these events by promoting and sharing pictures internally in our employee newsletter and externally on our social media. We have even started publishing an events calendar so people across departments can join. The sum of this activity is greater than the parts, creating an environment where people benefit from face-to-face time while simultaneously celebrating their colleagues.

 

Responses have been edited for length and clarity. Images via listed companies and Shutterstock.

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